selective focus photography of bookshelf with books

Ontario elementary educators were informed via a newsletter distributed on Wednesday, June 20th, 2023, of a new language curriculum to be implemented in the 2023-24 school year beginning this September.

The Minister of Education announced plans to overhaul the Language curriculum in Ontario, on the heels of the Ontario Human Rights Commission Right to Read Report, and is introducing a literacy screening tool for educators to use with learners starting in grade 2. The announced curriculum changes put an emphasis on graphemes, morphemes, and other phonic tools. The goal is for a move towards evidence-based literacy strategies.

While the Educators are “not opposed to updates and improvements to the current language Curriculum”, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) President Karen Brown said in the newsletter, “Educators need sufficient time, dedicated resources, and sustained professional learning opportunities to properly implement any new or revised curriculum.” Brown also noted that this is the 3rd major curriculum overhaul that the government has introduced in as many years, with Science getting a fresh look in 2022, and Mathematics having been revamped in 2021.

The haste with which these new changes are being adopted was a concern echoed by Halton ETFO Local President Lisa Klimkowski, “Curriculum changes require purposeful planning and collaboration as well as professional development. The government released it with only 8 working days before it must be implemented.” And while she acknowledges that there will likely be some professional development made available, it’s unlikely to be enough: “there’s no way a short session will even scratch the surface of what is needed. Time needs to be given to unpack each strand…to develop units and assignments.”

Klimkowski additionally raised concerns over the new screening requirements in the curriculum, noting that the results of these screenings are to be provided on student report cards from kindergarten to Grade 2. “Where is the assessment coming from? What kind of training needs to be given to teachers so that they can deliver this assessment?”. She also raised concerns as to whether these new screening tools will interfere with the integrity of Professional Judgement of educators, especially as it pertains to diagnostic screenings, and how this may impact the Collective Agreement, “It is up to [teachers] to choose the assessment…and decide when to use them and which students to use them with.”

The evidence-based programming mostly has support from educators. Many teachers have been implementing some of the strategies in their classrooms already, with one Halton elementary teacher telling me “I worked really hard to build out a literacy program that was evidence based…which had these same, phonics-based methods, and other methods in place”. Teachers have shared their excitement about these changes, and have mostly shared only concerns with the implementation.

With the summer rapidly approaching, the Ministry of Education was able to squeeze in 2 webinars for teachers to attend, one on June 27th at 5pm, the other June 28th at 3:30pm. And while teachers will have professional development in the fall, they’ll be scrambling to adjust their lessons and assessments throughout the summer.

As for the school board? Burlington Ward 5 Trustee Amy Collard shared that “Trustees are very rarely consulted on curriculum, and to my knowledge school boards across the province weren’t consulted either”. Board staff couldn’t be reached for comment.

The lack of consultation, clear path for implementation, and guidance from the Ministry of Education is cause for concern. Combine that with the $1200 per student decrease in real dollar funding since 2018, in Halton, the lowest-funded board in Ontario, and we have a problem. The summer isn’t that long, and teachers won’t be able to plan in a holistic way for the dramatic changes to the way we teach Language in Ontario.

Educators are in favour of it; Parents are in favour of it. We just want to know: What’s the rush?